We all know there are right and wrong ways to build performance culture. While we’ve done an amazing job of building performance culture from scratch here at Red Branch Media, I’ve got a couple of things going in my favor:

1) We’re still really small

2) It’s valuable to both the manager of the team and the CEO, both me.

3) I can set the direction of the program.

But even though we have a really great framework for performance sometimes I look for ways to spice things up. Here are some, erm, interesting ways to break criticism to employees, based on movies.

Steel Magnolias

In one scene, Olympia Dukakis is explaining to her friends how her nephew went about telling his parents he is gay.

“…Without so much as a hello says, “Mama and Daddy. I have something to tell you. I have a brain tumor. I have three months to live.” Well, naturally Drew and Belle became hysterical. Then Marshall says, “Hey folks, I’m just kidding. I’m only gay.”

What we can learn: Sometimes it pays to throw down the gauntlet when delivering bad news. This is especially helpful when a newer employee has their first screw up. I like to tell them I’m going to have to dock their pay to make up for the mixup and immediately laugh maniacally and say “Just kidding, let’s find a solution to ensure this never happens again.”


It’s clear from the start that Buddy is not cut out for the work he’s assigned. Instead of telling him, the entire group of elves, his dad included, decide to pretend standards of production are lower than they know they need to be.

What we can learn: In performance reviews, it’s crucial to be honest. While this results in a moment of tension between you and your employee, it can alleviate a LOT of tension between you and the employees who ARE performing at peak productivity. It also opens up a conversation between you and the underperforming employee about what they could be working on instead. We have email coordinators who morphed into web managers, content producers who are better suited to PR and business development folks who transformed into project managers. We’re a better company and they are happier employees for it.


Olivia Pope engenders a loyalty most managers can only dream of, but I’m pretty sure most of us aren’t willing to go to her same lengths to get it. However, she does do one thing that I think managers should emulate when trying to get the best performance out of their people. And that’s laying it down.

What we can learn: Every time one of your employees makes a mistake, there is an opportunity to learn for you and them. For them, they need to understand the process better so they don’t make a mistake and tie their goals and objectives to what is happening in the business. For you, you need to understand how to manage them properly so it never happens again. Multiple mistakes are not bad, but the same mistake more than once means it’s a management issue. Be like Olivia and make sure your people know how to get themselves out of a jam should they ever encounter one in the future.

Office Space

What work-post would be complete without a mention of the movie that made us ALL hate our jobs?

What we can learn: It is OH SO EASY to ignore those who aren’t “problems”, who don’t throw fits, ask for big raises, come up with new ideas or those who are professional agitators. However, would it surprise you to learn that often those are the most engaged workers, while those who stare at their desks all day (literally head down) are often your least engaged and least productive workers? Well, they are. Do what you have to do to understand what your people are actually accomplishing while on the clock. At Red Branch Media, we’ve built deliverable lists, created an intranet where we all share stuff, built out our #6things lists and lots more to ensure that no one’s work goes unnoticed.

The Devil Wears Prada

Sure sometimes in my darkest fantasies, I imagine what it must be like to have everyone fear you so much they would literally do backflips to ensure they never disappointed you, but in the real world, it just makes for a terrible workplace. No, the lesson from DWP is:

What we can learn: Be ready of course! Look performance culture happens in a thousand daily, weekly, informal and formal interactions. And in many cases, you MUST be ready for them. And the only way you can reasonably expect your employees to be prepared for performance conversations is to be ready yourself. One of the best by-products of every millennial needing constant feedback is they are willing to give it in turn, so ask the questions before you meet and get the answers you’re looking for.


While Sherlock is actually the worst boss anyone’s ever had, there is something to learn from this show as well when it comes to getting the best performance out of people.

What we can learn: It’s easy to become disengaged and fall into poor habits. Putting granular goals in your performance review system and allowing your employees to make a plan to reach them, is extremely helpful. After all, if you only do performance reviews every six months to a year, how are vague goals going to help your people get where they want to be? With specific numbers, both you and your employees can focus on achieving those goals.

While some of these are clearly tongue in cheek, it’s crucial to be able to look to unique and interesting ways to bring some fun and humor into performance reviews. So next time you’re wondering how to make your performance culture better, head to the movies!